This is the emotional moment three Brazilian footballers who survived a devastating plane crash that killed 19 of their team mates returned to the scene of the disaster.
Chapecoense goalkeeper Jackson Follmann, who lost part of his leg in the accident, and players Helio Zampier Neto and Alan Ruschel were among six team members who survived the crash on 28 November last year, on a hillside near Medellin international airport in Colombia.
The club’s first team were on a charter flight travelling to play the first leg of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana final against Atlético Nacional, a match that was seen as the biggest in the history of the club, when their plane ran out of gas and crashed.
Last night, the three players returned to the still-scarred hillside where a Brazilian flag, flowers and a makeshift shrine have been left in memory of the 77 passengers and crew who were killed. An oxygen mask from the stricken plane has also been left at the crash site.
Goalkeeper Follmann was helped by rescuers as he made his way to the shrine.
— Chapecoense (@ChapecoenseReal) May 8, 2017
A makeshift altar full of crosses and flowers stood where the plane’s fuselage broke into two a short distance from Medellin’s airport, killing all but six of those aboard.
‘I had to see this for myself to know what happened,’ Follmann said, standing in heavy rainfall that provided a somber tone to the visit. ‘It was a miracle of God.’
Later, residents of nearby La Union filled the small town’s plaza for a heartfelt tribute to the team, providing the survivors with flowers and even some personal objects salvaged from the crash site.
‘Chape,’ as the team is known, traveled to Medellin for the second leg of the Recopa Sudamericana, which features the winners of Latin America‘s top two club tournaments.
It’s a relatively minor club tournament, but one that has taken on added interest this year as Chape faces off against Atletico Nacional, with which it will be forever twinned in tragedy. Chapecoense won the first leg in Brazil 2-1.
The team was traveling to Medellin almost six months ago to face Atletico in the Copa Sudamericana finals when its chartered plane from Bolivia crashed after having run out of gas just a few minutes before landing.
The three survivors from the team – Follmann, Ruschel and Neto – are expected to attend the match as spectators along with a Brazilian journalist whose life was also spared.
The father of the Bolivian pilot and airline’s owner who died in the crash also visited the crash site.
Follman said he hopes to one day play Paralympics soccer while Ruschel holds out hope of rejoining Chapecoense.
‘The doctors say that the recovery has been miraculous,’ Ruschel told the newspaper El Colombiano de Medellin.
‘I’m now training on a level with my teammates, and in 20 days or so I hope to be able to play again in an official game. It seems incredible, but it’s true.’
Earlier Tuesday the players visited the hospital where they received it and exchanged hugs with their one-time caregivers.
‘For us and for the hospital, it is very emotional to have you back,’ said Dr. Ferney Alexander, the chief medical authority at the San Vicente Foundation.
‘The work we did in November and December resulted in where you are now.’